Sakhir Grand Prix: Valtteri Bottas just beats George Russell to pole for Mercedes one-two

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Valtteri Bottas edged Mercedes new boy George Russell to pole position at the Sakhir Grand Prix.

The Finn was just 0.026 seconds quicker than Russell, driving for Mercedes for the first time as a stand-in for Lewis Hamilton, who has coronavirus.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was just 0.03secs behind Russell in third place.

And there was a superb performance from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who took fourth, less than 0.3secs from pole, with team-mate Sebastian Vettel 13th.

It was a highly impressive performance from Russell, who had set the pace in both practice sessions on Friday but fell back a little once running started on Saturday.

Bottas was 0.212secs quicker than Russell after the first runs in qualifying but the Finn failed to improve on his second run and Russell was able to run him close, but just miss out.

George Russell
Russell topped both first and second practice sessions on Friday

Russell said: “It has been incredibly intense, so much to learn, getting used to the car, seat, everything.

“It felt really alien to begin with. A different way of driving, trying to unlearn what I learnt at Williams and learn how to drive this car fast.

“I got a few things wrong in P3 and would have been happy just to get into Q3 at that stage, but got it all together in the Q3.

“Valtteri has pushed Lewis incredibly close over the years and to be this close behind Valtteri coming in with two days’ prep, I’m delighted.”

Bottas said: “It is a different situation to have a different team-mate but I just wanted to focus on what I was doing and not waste energy on anything else.

“Strategy-wise we are in a good place and It is good to see George on the front row. Not my best qualifying but I am happy with pole.”

What a lap from Leclerc

Charles Leclerc
Leclerc said he was “extremely happy” to be starting fourth on the grid

Leclerc’s performance was arguably the stand-out moment of qualifying.

Ferrari qualified 11th and 12th at the Bahrain Grand Prix last weekend and did not have high expectations for this race on a new, shorter layout of the same track.

But Leclerc excelled, first by sneaking into the final part of qualifying, 0.3secs faster than Vettel at the time, and then with an outstanding lap right at the beginning of the session that put him second fastest behind Verstappen at the time.

He went on the radio afterwards and said to his team: “This lap was very good.”

That was it for Leclerc, as he had no new tyres left to run again, but although the track in theory gets quicker through a session, only the Mercedes drivers were able to go faster than him and to be 0.236secs from pole in a Ferrari will go down as one of the laps of the season.

“I am so happy because it was kind of a bet to go out at the beginning and not go out again but for different reasons I wanted to go early. For traffic, because I expected it to be a mess at the end of the run, and also not to wait too much before going out again,” said Leclerc.

“I had clear ideas what I wanted to do in the car and I managed to put everything in my lap and so I’m extremely happy to be starting in fourth.”

How did the rest get on?

Jack Aitken
British-Korean driver Aitken is standing in for Russell at Williams this weekend

Racing Point’s Sergio Perez was fifth fastest, ahead of a strong performance from Alpha Tauri’s Daniil Kvyat, who beat Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo to sixth.

McLaren’s Carlos Sainz took eighth ahead of Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly and the second Racing Point of Lance Stroll.

Red Bull’s Alex Albon was down in 12th, nearly 0.4secs slower than Verstappen in the second knockout session, a far from ideal performance for the British-Thai driver who has two races to convince the team he should be kept on for next season.

Sainz’s McLaren team-mate Lando Norris was down in 15th after a bizarre mix-up led to him not recording a representative lap time in second qualifying.

Briton Jack Aitken was 18th on his debut for Williams, replacing Russell, just 0.096secs behind team-mate Nicholas Latifi and ahead of the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen.

Brazilian Pietro Fittipaldi was 20th and last as he stood in for Romain Grosjean at Haas after the Frenchman’s fiery crash last Sunday.

BBC

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